The March of the Dead

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11

The weather became even cooler ’round town late April.

Throughout my school, much to the disappointment of many of the boys, including (especially, actually) Cantey, stockings became mandatory for females, hiding the legs of some of the girls who had spent all summer working on their tan.

This policy, of course, ensured Aisha had to wear stockings too.

I walked towards school with Kel, around six weeks before she died. Her cheeks were flushed as we walked in through the large gates. She lowered her head as her eyes found my gaze. ‘Did I make a fool of myself Saturday night, babe?’

At recess, I played handball, but was horribly aware of Aisha standing by the History classrooms talking to friends. Once more I felt that fluttering in my stomach. As I swat the ball back, I once more lay on a beach with her. The sunlight this day glinted off my flat brown stomach. My own eyes, I imagined, glinted as blue as the ocean before us, and as I felt the grainy sand against my back as I hoped she admired my brown wavy hair.

Aisha rolled on top of me. Again those fingers, soft, subtle, brown yet pale intertwined with mine. Green eyes gazed.

Swat! the ball bounded past me. Some of the boys I played against broke-off into laughter. ‘You’re out, Blinky, ya nob,’ one called, grasping me and shoving me towards those waiting in line.

During that month, the man’s voice sounded within me. At first I tried ignoring it, tried pretending it wasn’t there. I would be sitting in Geography, listening to Gabrielli talking about the China’s population and its affect on the environment. Beside me, students sat with blinking eyes and heads resting on palms, and soon a voice would sound in my head.

It was like it came from a distant tunnel, and by the time the voice reached me it was distorted and warped, as though its trip from its hellish origins had left if altered, malformed.

Blinky ... I come for you ... death reaches your world, Blinky, and spreads ... taking everyone from inside ... from beneath we come for you, Blinky ... and it is you we want ... yeees ... yeeeeees.

‘Blinky?’ Mrs Gabrielli said.

She stared at me. I was gripping my pencil, eyes wide as I stared back.

At lunch I sat alone by the library, eating a chicken teriyaki sandwich Mum had made me this morning. Hazel Longworth came out of the library holding a stack of books. She gazed at me a moment, then sat beside me.

I don’t know, it was quite nice. As the sun was rising over the paperbark tree above us we talked about all the books we’d read, and the ones we liked and ones we didn’t. ‘You’ve read Julius Caesar?’ she said, shaking her head. There was a glint to her deep brown eyes. ‘Who woulda thought?.’ Her face shone in the morning light as she grinned. ‘You really are an interesting guy, aren’t you, Blinky.’

I returned her grin, flushing.

‘Nothing too interesting about me.’

The sun lowered for the day, and soon it was night. I stepped along Morrison, a gentle breeze blowing, and on that gentle breeze I was certain I heard the stranger’s words again. I turned around there in the darkness to see if someone called my name from behind.

Those tall orange lights of the main street rose in the hazy darkness. Looking back around, a man sat against the wall up ahead, a few shopping bags stocked with clothes and cans of food and some long-life goods beside him. A cigarette hung in a grimy hand. ‘Got a dollar, bro? Spare some change for a homeless man? Got a dollar, bro?’

I shook my head as I passed him, and tried giving him a weak smile.

On Wednesday, I sat with Kehlani in Religion.

Her warm breath bushed up against my cheek. Her thin, nice hand lay on my leg beneath the table. She breathed into my ear, ‘Tonight ... come around mine .... I wanna see you tonight.’ Something swelled throughout my stomach. My hands became damp almost in an instant. I struggled just to hold my pen.

And the river flickered, my heart picking up a few beats ...

A fear ... a deep-seated fear swept through me ....

Come lunchtime, sitting by the Mrs Leone Garden with my friends, my knees felt weak.

After school, I stepped out from the chemist near Kel’s house, my hands so clammy I wondered if I could even grip the small paper bag I held at all. When I had walked into the chemist, as fate would have it, a girl around my age had stepped up, offering assistance. Where do you keep your condoms? I imagined saying.

Smooth.

Instead I just grew red in the face and shook my head.

‘Do you have any ringworm cream anywhere?’ I said, which made me grow redder still, and caused her too as well. Anyway, she happened to pass through the men’s goods aisle on the way.

Kehlani and I now strolled towards her place, her hand drawing along my sweaty back, beneath my shirt. Her voice held a hint of concern as she gazed up at me in the evening light. ‘You don’t have to, Blinky ....’ She had stopped, now facing me, her body thin, lean, skin pale in that afternoon night, freckles glowing. Those eyes shone bluer than the car sitting in the driveway behind her. A cool autumnal breeze glided through.

Soon we were in her room, her legs coming around my own as we sat on the bed. Her knees were white, small freckles dotting them. She learnt forwards, eyes all desire.

And still my hands sweated and shook.

And lap, lap, lap went the waves against the sand.

There we sat afterwards.

I was shaking my head.

‘I’m sorry ...,’ I said, gazing down to the carpet in the warm glow. Kehlani once more soothed my back with her light touch. ‘I’m just ... just not ready, babe.’

She leant in, kissed my cheek.

*

The air turned from cool to cold by the 22nd of May.

Our class was running out on the back ovel Tuesday, touching the line at one end of the field, turning and running back. I noticed Aisha beside me. She grinned. ‘You enjoy the party last week?’ She called. Sunlight flickered and shimmered off that silver pendent.

I nodded, trying to keep my breathing together. ‘I—’ pant, pant, ‘—thought—’ pant, pant, ’—it was a really cool—’ pant, pant, ‘—party,’ I managed to gasp, before drawing in a few more lungfuls of air as we ran.

We reached the end of the oval. Sunlight gleamed off her bare pale arms. Aisha leant over to catch her breath.

I noticed the way that white sports shirt clung to the curves and angles, gazing over instead to Mrs Farson who talked to Amelia and Mia up near the goal posts. Aisha puffed as she stood there, her lips full and rich.

In Science, Aisha sat near the front. As she turned to her friend, I saw the fair skin of her face, and her smooth skin there and soft rounded features. Those few moles gleamed in the light of the projector.

Mr Lapaglia’s voice startled me from my day-dreaming. I stared back over at the teacher as he went through more about chemical compositions from his place before the class, his grey beard gleaming.

*

Kehlani pressed her hand against my chest.

I gripped her thinner, whiter one.

Our lips pressed together. Throughout the bedroom soft, pop music played, the scent of mango wafting throughout from a lit candle.

Her lips pressed against mine as her body found the gaps and folds of my own. Her arms wrapped around me, but there, sitting in Kehlani’s bedroom I was not kissing a blonde-haired girl.

The next day, I felt the urge to turn to Aisha in class, but kept my gaze on the board ahead. At lunch, however, Aisha came over, asking about the homework. I marvelled at the intricate way the brown in her eyes melted into the green, as her nose ring glinted like some gem.

That evening, in Kel’s bedroom, I once more thought of Aisha as Kel and I sat on the bed. Blackened waves of silky hair brushed my shoulders, or so I imagined.

I stared into my Kehlani’s eyes and whispered, ‘Aisha ... Aisha.’

Kehlani sat there on the bed, having eased back, staring at me.

‘What?’

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